Kolkata to Varanasi on a river cruise
Since 2009, Heritage River Cruises, and now its sister company, Heritage River Journeys, have sought to bring diverse historical and life experiences for contemporary travellers on river cruise ships.
Heritage River Cruises and Heritage River Journeys have sought to imagine diverse historical and life experiences for travellers on their cruise ships, the RV Bengal Ganga and the MV Ganges Voyager. The managing director of these companies, Raj Singh, started to explore river cruising in India in the 1990s but earnest exploration of the waters began in the mid-2000s. With the help of the Inland Waterways Authority of India, Inland Water Transport of the Government of West Bengal and numerous individuals, he delved into the possibilities of cruise tourism.
Sailing on an IWAI survey vessel, he planned an itinerary and imagined anew the possibilities of starting passenger cruising from Kolkata to Varanasi after nearly a break of more than a 100 years. Pontoon bridges, varying levels of water, different regimes of state and central government taxation and the lack of infrastructure were just some of the difficulties that the companies and their ships have encountered and dealt with to deliver a tourism experience that is of a very high standard. Each ship has 28 cabins, a dining room, a bar, a spa, and viewing decks. There is a crew of 35 on each vessel which maintains and services the ship and its passengers. The Bengal Ganga is an expedition river craft, made entirely out of Burma teak and iron. It sails from Kolkata to Patna and downstream to Kolkata between October and late March when the river’s waters are plentiful yet calm. The Ganges Voyager, chartered for the next four years by the international tourism organisation Haimark, is a hotel on water, with suites and interior decoration reminiscent of the Raj. It sails between Kolkata and Murshidabad once a week.
A new vessel, the Ganges Voyager II, is about to be launched in 2016. With all three traversing the river, approximately 3,500 passengers a year will travel to this lit- tle explored part of eastern India. During all this growth, the companies have tried to keep the environmental and social impact of tourism on the communities along the river to a minimum. Local transport and local forms of culture are part of the tourist’s ‘ India’ experience.
The ships are staffed with crew from different parts of the country, of diverse social backgrounds and attract intrepid travellers who wish to see the Ganga for its famed mysticism. All commercial ventures need to make money. But how we make that money is equally important. Our collective vision is to build companies that do their business honourably, in an ecologically thoughtful way, as well as bring pleasure and the security of a good livelihood and great travel experiences to many.